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The Coronation of Poppea, Guillon/Huffman, Opéra de Rennes

“Victoire Bunel lends her voice to the noble and proud Octavie, as well as to Virtue in the Prologue. Her warm, caressing voice fully serves the incarnation of a woman wounded and humiliated, but proud and touching in her anger. Her lamentations are filled with long, heavy silences full of heart-rending sorrow”.

Crédit : Laurent Guizard

The Coronation of Poppea, Guillon/Huffman, Opéra de Rennes

07/10/2023 - Classique News - Emmanuel Andrieu

The 23/24 season at the Opéra de Rennes opens with one of the major successes of the 2022 edition of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, a production of Claudio Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea by New York director Ted Huffman. It features Johannes Schütz’s Spartan set design (here revived and adapted by Anna Wörl), distinguished above all by the enormous tube – half black and half white – that hangs above the protagonists throughout the evening, like a symbol of the duality between good and evil as much as their fatal destiny. But above all, Ted Huffman creates real theatre in music, creating characters of flesh and blood, driven by ambition and subject to the merciless dictatorship of their impulses. The singers’ physicality allows them to be stripped naked and their bodies to speak for themselves, as in the ‘triolist’ scene between Poppea, Nero and Lucan, when the final duet is also of rare eroticism.

The cast, almost entirely new compared to the performances in Aix-en-Provence, is of the same high standard. Starting with the American countertenor Ray Chenez, who portrays a neurotic, sadistic Nero with a disturbing look and expression, and who is unreservedly convincing both in his lively acting and in his exceptionally authoritative singing. Alongside her, Catherine Trottmann may seem a little too charming, sweet and sincere to portray the manipulative and carnivorous Poppea – but how can one fail to melt at the beauty of the artist’s voice and flawless musicality, the youth, beauty and sensuality she exudes, particularly in the many kisses and caresses she exchanges with the Roman Emperor.

The fullness and warmth of the timbre of French mezzo Victoire Bunel (as Octavia) also arouse great emotion: her “Disprezzata regina”, like her farewell to Rome, are among the most intense moments of the evening. For his part, the young bass Adrien Mathonat has all the poise of Seneca, with a superb grain of voice, and all the great flexibility demanded by this repertoire. Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian, already present in Aix as Othon, repeated his performance, with splendid vocalisations, each time more assured and varied in their inflections. Maïlys de Villoutreys is a deliciously fruity Drusilla, while countertenor Paul Figuier portrays the two transvestite roles of Arnalta and the Nourrice with great aplomb, but without the excesses usually associated with these two figures. Last but not least, Camille Poul’s delightful Amour, while Sebastian Monti (Lucain), Thibault Givaja (Libertus) and Yannis François (Le Licteur) round out the vocal cast.

The conductor from Rennes, Damien Guillon, leads his ensemble Le banquet céleste with as much philological prudence as dramatic sensitivity. Despite the light instrumentation, he offers a full, fleshy, supple, nervous and richly coloured reading of Monteverdi’s magnificent score. And it was a richly deserved success that the entire artistic team achieved at the moment of the bows!

CRITIQUE, opéra. RENNES, opera (from 1 to 8 October 2023). MONTEVERDI: L’Incoronazione di Poppea. C. Trottmann, R. Chenez, V. Bunel, P. A. Bénos-Djian… Ted Huffman / Damien Guillon. Photos © Laurent Guizard